Text: Mark 1:1-8
Date: Advent II B + 12/10/17
In today’s Collect we pray that the Lord make ready the way to come to us and enable us to serve God with pure minds. In other words, we pray that the Lord would Come to Lead Us, lead us to faith and holiness. How does God come to lead us but through His chosen means of grace, namely, His Word and Sacraments.
His Word comes to us through the prophetic and apostolic scriptures, through the prophets, apostles, and evangelists of the Bible. Today pastors and ministers are called by God to deliver that Word. But they are not called directly, immediately as with a bolt of lightning and a voice from heaven as was St. Paul, nor with a vision of God’s glory as with the prophet Isaiah and others. Pastors and ministers today are called by God “mediately,” through the means of His Word and Spirit and the certification of the Church. As when God promised in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” so it is God who puts the desire and the idea of becoming a pastor in certain Christian men by His Spirit working through the Word. Then only through a process of discernment and formation the Church receives, ordains, and sends them into the holy ministry. That’s the way we can say for certain that a particular man has been called and sent by God to be our pastor.
Today we hear again of the coming of John the Baptist. We’ve heard the story before. But I want you to imagine that you were among those first residents of the country of Judea and all Jerusalem. Mark tells us you “were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing your sins.” But stop and ask, “Why should we listen to him? Where did he come from?” Mark tries to allay our doubts by telling us, simply, “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.” In other words, John looked and sounded (and maybe even smelled!) like a real prophet! But seriously, how do we know? And then how do we know the one coming after him, that is, Jesus, is really the mightier one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”? Says who?
To answer that question, you need to go to Luke’s Gospel. John didn’t just wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to be that ‘voice in the wilderness’ Isaiah predicted.” It was the angel of the Lord appearing before his father Zechariah telling him, “your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth” (Luke 1:12-14). After his birth Zechariah was inspired by the Holy Spirit to prophecy of this son, saying, “and you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins…and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76-77, 79). Can you imagine John growing up through childhood and young adulthood being taught by his parents of God’s amazing gift and call for him to, yes, actually be that prophet foretold by Isaiah? The same can be said for his cousin, Jesus. Imagine how He grew up under the care and nurture of His mother Mary and her husband Joseph, being taught of the amazing gift that He is. Did He always know He was God? Is it saying too much to say, surely at least His true human nature needed to be taught Who He really was?
But back to John. We can assume that you and the rest of the people there saw and heard him “baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” His word, his preaching was none other than God’s word, the means through which the Holy Spirit drew you and all those “going out to him being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing your sins.” That’s the way God works even today in you! How did you come to believe in God and His plan of salvation for you but through His divine word being spoken into your ears? This is how God has come to save us and to lead us, to lead us to faith, to lead us in the way of peace, to lead us to Himself in His Son.
We don’t forget John but, as with his own disciples, we leave him behind when Jesus shows up. “After me comes he who is mightier than I.” “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It is John the Evangelist who tells us in his Gospel that the Baptist’s two disciples, Andrew and (we assume) the evangelist John himself, heard him say,” “Behold, the Lamb of God!” and they followed Jesus” (John 1:36-40).
So we begin again today to follow Jesus. He is our Guide. We have confessed our sins and now we follow the Lamb who takes away our sins and the sin of the whole world. Along the way we will see and hear amazing and even mysterious things from Him. But it is only as He draws us to that cross and His crucifixion that we discover how He is the Lamb of God and how He takes away sin. To call Him the Lamb does not mean to tone gown or dumb down or soften His image. It does mean to proclaim Him the one sacrificial Lamb of whom all the lambs sacrificed through the ages foretold. It does mean blood. It does mean being put to death. In the words of the Apostle Peter, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” The baptism in the Holy Spirit, Peter continues, “now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him” (1 Peter 3:18, 21-22).
Therefore, today we do not only remember John the Baptist but hear again the Word of God through him. Repenting of our sins we are drawn to the forgiveness of our sins today through our baptism into Christ. Following Him we discover that in holy baptism we are crucified with Him, that our sinful self has died, and dies again daily, and we are raised again, again and again, by His death and resurrection for us, by His holy word of absolution over us. Today we gather to receive the forgiveness of our sins and to be directed by John the Baptist to follow Jesus. The Voice from heaven will say, at His baptism and again at His transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him” (Mt. 17:5), hear Him, follow Him.